We have studied the effects of intracellular lipid storage on macrophage function. Mouse peritoneal macrophages were lipid loaded by three regimens modeling loading through the scavenger receptor [acetylated low density lipoprotein (Ac-LDL) cells], by extracellular matrix-bound LDL [low density lipoprotein complexed with dextran sulfate (DS-LDL) cells], and by conditions of reduced cholesterol acceptors in the medium [low serum, oleic acid, Ac-LDL (LS/OI) cells]. Significantly increased cholesterol levels in all three regimens were measured by cholesterol determination and Oil Red O staining of fixed cells. Lipid-laden cells were equal to control macrophages in binding and ingesting immunoglobulin-coated sheep erythrocytes, reflecting Fc-mediated endocytosis. The lipid-laden cells were compared to control cells for secretory functions of macrophages that could be important in the atherosclerotic artery. They were still capable of producing all secretory products examined, but the quantities of H2O2 and arachidonic acid metabolites were reduced in some cases, and fibrinolytic activity appeared to be increased. Western blot analysis showed a five-fold increase in the release of tumor necrosis factor by DS-LDL-loaded cells. We suggest that the location of intracellular lipid pools as well as the type of lipids (and/or lipid complexes) ingested may determine the extent of functional changes.